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Home > Culture and Society

Funny Into Sexy Doesn't Go: A 'Funny' Woman Writes...

6 February 2006

This week The Independent reported on the results of a survey conducted for the scientific journal Evolution and Human Behaviour. The survey questioned hundreds of men and women in their twenties to ascertain how important a GSOH really is in a potential partner; or rather, what they mean when they claim a ‘good sense of humour’ is what they’re after. Women want men who are funny, but as it transpires, men only want women who will laugh at their jokes. Half the men surveyed actively didn’t want a woman of wit as a long-term partner. The findings suggest to project leader Dr Rod Martin that men feel threatened by amusing women, and much prefer one who’s just receptive to their own bon mots. In humble deference to my own bomb-like biological clock, hereby announce that in the light of these findings I shall not be ending this paragraph with a quip.

The survey - with all due caveats, since all survey summations are the evil deformed cousins of enormous fat fibs - won’t come as a terrific shock to any bafflingly-single woman who makes funnies on a regular basis. To begin with, there’s a wider issue, which is the question of whether or not it’s possible for women to be *properly* funny at all. There aren’t that many female stand-ups, and many of them aren’t considered that funny. Even the ones that break through into telly and have successful careers tend to produce regular groans of utter disamusement. Forgive me some dull sociological speculation, but I think it’s a Victorian thing. And a Suffragette thing. (‘Any girl who wants to chain herself to my railings and suffer a *jet* movement gets my vote.’ Written by Richard Curtis and/or Ben Elton, spoken by Rik Mayall - see? What chance do we have?) And a 1950s thing. Basically, women until relatively recently were expected to be fairly meek, fairly subservient, fairly quiet - when they weren’t being good wives and mothers they were raging and ranting about society expecting them to be meek and quiet and etc. Neither state lends itself to comedy. Even writing about it now isn’t funny in the slightest. Curses.

Womanhood, society was forced to acknowledge, is no trifling thing; no laughing matter. As we got into the 70s the deadly seriousness was compounded - if you could do something as absurd and alliterative as burning a bra without the ghost of a smirk, you were pretty damn hardcore. Feminism was not funny, and in spite of Greer’s ‘fuck-me shoes’, it still isn’t. Society has been urged to start taking women seriously for some time now, and every week there are more reasons - date rape, unequal pay, childcare - popping up like really unfunny puppets to remind everyone that it’s *still* not funny. So it’s not that surprising that when a woman breezes onto a stage and tries to induce laughter, people get ideological whiplash - everything they’ve absorbed is telling them they shouldn’t laugh. Men have a certain neutrality when it comes to comedy - they don’t have any of that baggage. They can make themselves ridiculous, get people to laugh *at* as well as *with* them. You can’t really laugh *at* a woman. It’s too uncomfortable. Besides, if a woman walks onto a stage she can’t really get away from what she looks like, and nor can the audience. An ordinary-looking bloke being funny is demonstrating that a good sense of humour is more important than a chiselled jaw; an ordinary-looking woman being funny is, it will always be suspected, *compensating*. Also, women being funny about their own experience of being a girl is always iffy - so much harder to make light of the female experience, steeped as it is in solemnity and centuries of depressing grimness and unflattering clothes. Men, on the other hand, need only say ‘penis’ and they’re rolling in the aisles. Men are pretty much born into absurdity and turn it to their advantage, using self-deprecating wit to win women over and demonstrate their confidence; women come out kicking and screaming in a lopsided world, and have to scrabble for humour with the nice nails that rather more accurately represent their lot. Hardly seems worth it. And if that sounds po-faced, then you’ll understand why many of us love to escape the travails of girlieness by cultivating a smart gob.

So, for a number of reasons, funny is the province of the male. Thus if a girl is witty, it makes her some sort of social threat, as suggested in the Indie and backed up by Catherine ‘Bovvered’ Tate (who some people find as funny as the discovery of a cat collar in their curry). Plus of course, if humour is a bloke thing, then humour in women diminishes their femininity, as surely as a big pair of painty overalls and stubble. And, like a woman who can fix her own plumbing in said overalls, she may give the impression of being self-sufficient, being possessed of such masculine skills. Hence - funny women aren’t sexy. It also follows that women who act as joke reflectors, who laugh prettily and toss their hair at male gags, are the most desirable; or that women should be cannily asking why the chicken crossed the road in a Hyacinth Bucket voice, in order to really go for whatever the opposite of the jugular is on a date.

But the salient point here is; the men surveyed were in their twenties. Young, easily-intimidated, Playstation-playing men who have a lot yet to experience. And among them, a good number of men who haven’t yet got over their fear of women, funny or otherwise. (Of course funny women come across as quite assertive also, which is always a total PR disaster.) The kind of man whose masculinity is threatened by a woman who can keep pace with him in the quip stakes is the kind who’d be rattled by her intelligence, cleavage or pretty much anything about her. Funny women needn’t worry about attracting mates - if they start that, start thinking they should change, then they’ll succumb to the horrors that lurk in glossy magazines and start worrying about their hair and weight and other desperately sad and grave things, and then we’re all fucked. All they need to remember is that jokes about periods never, ever work. No. Not even that one. No. It demeans us all. Stop it with the fucking period jokes. I’m totally serious.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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